Your body changes? Your tango changes! But not for long

Recently my partner and I went on holiday to Austria, had a great time of course, but as is often the case, we picked up a virus on the way back. My partner had tummy problems the day before we flew back and by the time I was sat in the car at Stansted Airport the next day, ready to drive home, I wasn’t feeling too great either.

To cut a story short we both lost a Kg or so. Possibly walking in the Austrian mountains helped (but not the marvelous food 🙂 ), and also the careful eating and… ahem… other factors shall we say, after coming back.

So we were practicing at the weekend and my partner said ‘Something’s changed about your lead’. ‘Good change or bad change?’ I asked. ‘Not sure, but it could be good in the long run because I’m having to work harder with my core. You’re not driving me with your stomach like before’. Hmmm, well we finally figured it was because we’d both lost a bit of stomach volume because of our walking exercise/illness.

None of this was deliberate – neither of us had set out to lose weight, but of course it does make sense that elements such as your centre of gravity may shift slightly, your weight will have changed (obviously) and so leaders may have to work a little harder to drive their familiar dance partners around the floor, and as my partner found, followers who have been relying a little bit on their partners, may have to work a little harder.

What this means is that if you’re planning to lose weight (perhaps to get beach fit, or as a New Year resolution, or because of medical advice) your tango will have to be modified slightly and you may have to work a bit harder until you get used to the new you.

It shouldn’t be too big a deal but it’s worth being aware of it, just in case your tango seems a little more hard work. Keep practicing your tango and working with the new you, and your tango will be back  to it’s normal level in a short time. 🙂

 

 

Learning tango in the group dance class environment

On our Frequently Asked Questions page, often we get asked ‘Does it take long to learn Argentine Tango?’ or ‘How long does it take to learn Argentine Tango?’. As stated there, this is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string.

It depends on so many different things such as how often you go to class, how you apply yourself, how good your teacher is, how good the other people you practice with are, what you’re overall goal is and so on. It is a question which is therefore difficult to answer simply.

Many tango schools label people as beginners, improvers, intermediates etc. based on calendar duration of dancing tango rather than capability. In my humble opinion all tango dancers (including myself) who are not raw beginners are improvers, because…

The act of improving your dance technique never stops.

I still attend advanced Argentine tango classes and practice a few hours every week. Even World Champions still take lessons… We all become simultaneously, beginners, improvers and experts in some aspect of the dance, as shown in the graphic.

We are all moving from the ‘no experience’ box via ‘some skills’ and ‘much skills’ to ‘advanced skills’ boxes with at least one aspect of our dance, pretty much all the time. You don’t become expert in all things instantaneously overnight, but you evolve to become a better tango dancer each day you practice…

In recognition of this continual learning cycle, at Tango Elegante we run our tango dance classes and courses to start off fairly easy for those of us in the ‘no experience’ box, and help people to move up the competence chain, and with a little bit of practice to eventually nudge attendees into the ‘much skills’ box.

It is important to remember that most people don’t ‘get it’ on the first run through of new material, new technique, or trying to improve musicality. Or some people ‘get it’ in an intellectual way (i.e. they understand what’s required) but they still can’t perform it well without a lot of practice.

So when you go to any class and learn new material, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it quickly, and certainly ignore anyone around you who is showing impatience because you don’t get it quick enough to suit them.

Just think about what you need to practice to improve that element of your dance, find a patient enough person to practice with, and keep practicing.

Milongas (social dances)

OK, yes it is confusing using the word ‘milonga’ 🙂 Are we talking about a tune, or a dance style? Well, no we’re talking about a type of social dance for Argentine tango dancers. In fact you can dance a milonga (style) to a milonga (tune) at a milonga (social dance). How did this all come about?

Well the milonga style predates tango salon, so when people in Argentina went social dancing they mostly danced whatever the style of the day was – milonga (and possibly candombe which is another compact style predating milonga), to whatever the music of the times was – brisk tango and quick step.

Most likely people just said they were ‘going to milonga’ meaning going to a dance. In later years we have tango salon evolving out of the milonga style and tango vals evolving out of tango salon so we now have three styles that can be danced at a milonga (social dance), with each having their own style of music.

Rules of the Dance Hall (or codigos)

An event organiser is entitled to organise his/her event in any way they like and so some milongas tend to be laid back, not many rules on the dance floor or in how people should ask each other to dance. Some events only play traditional music, some only play modern music, some play a mix.

So each event has it’s own set of rules from the strict

  • no jeans allowed, couples are seated together at the ends of the hall, single men on the left of the hall, single women on the right of the hall, and only cabeco/mirada can be used to invite or refuse a dance, strict line of dance clockwise around the dance floor, no overtaking etc.

to the relaxed

  • dress how you like, sit where you like, ask people to dance how you like, no line of dance just a ‘Brownian Motion’ like, vaguely clockwise movement around the hall using whatever space is available etc.

or anywhere in between. If there are any ‘red line’ rules that must not be breached, these are usually displayed at the entrance to the milonga (but sometimes not – you maybe expected to find out for yourselves). If you break them you may be asked to leave!

You find that event organisers use these types of rules to differentiate themselves from other social dances. For example in Buenos Aires there are many social dances going on pretty much every night of the week in different districts and so the tango going public has plenty of choice.

So one milonga will run a strict dress code to attract people who want to dress up. Another milonga might be family friendly, starting early so families can bring their kids, eat, dance a little, and when families start leaving the late night crowd starts arriving. Another milonga might be a ‘nuevo’ milonga playing only modern tango tunes, with a relaxed dress code. Of course the music being played is a big component of choosing a venue, with plenty of orchestras and periods to chose from. It means there is usually something for everyone.

In London and the UK it’s pretty much the same with traditional vs nuevo music, strict line of dance vs no line of dance, and with some venues requiring cabaceo to be used (but many or most not). The trick for the new milonga goer is to visit a few places and see what they’re like, find the ones you feel comfortable in, and you can then stick to those if that’s what you want to do.

Our milongas are fairly irregular but we do try put on a social dance every now and then. Our only ‘codigos’ are to be respectful of your partner and the dancers around you, and stay on the line of dance. We don’t do dress codes (unless we advertise a party theme) and we don’t worry too much how people get themselves a dance as long as people join the dance floor in a respectful way 🙂

Check out our event page to see if we have a social milonga coming up.

What are we up to this Season?

Summer Season – Pinner, North London

We have a number of classes and workshops available for booking now. These are all running in Pinner. We have the following coming up in August/September.

‘The Flavour of Tango’ – Argentine Tango Workshop – Pinner

This workshop is ideal for those couples who have never danced Argentine Tango (or any dance) to try it out before committing themselves to further involvement. Anyone who dances Ballroom, Salsa, Modern Jive etc. and who is wanting a new challenge is welcome to come and try Tango.

Please note this course is limited in numbers (max 12 people). For more details of the course, and to guarantee your place, please book now at

We have two alternative dates for this workshop coming up in September.

The Flavour of Tango – Argentine Tango Workshop – 14th Sept

The Flavour of Tango – Argentine Tango Workshop – 21st Sept

Argentine Tango Open Classes Summer Season Part 2 – Pinner

This is a series of open classes, starting on Saturday 24th Aug running up to 21st Sept (Part 3 will run from 28th Sept – to be confirmed).

These classes are aimed at all levels from recent beginner to intermediate/advanced. Each class will review and consolidate what you already know, and help you improve your dancing with new figures, movements and walking patterns, while learning more about musicality and how you can use the music to influence your dance.

Click here for more details about our Argentine Tango Open Classes.

Please note these classes are limited in numbers (max 14 people) due to current venue size, so please book to let me know who’s interested. You don’t have to pay until you attend.

Autumn Season in Pinner

From late September we are running a ‘Ten Week to Tango’ beginners/ improvers course, as well as a continuation of our Open Classes for more advanced dancers.

‘Ten Weeks to Tango’ 3 – Pinner

Couple dancing tango Ten Weeks to Tango version 3This is a structured course (not a drop in set of classes), starting on Saturday 28th Sept lasting 10 weeks, aimed at :-

  • beginners (never danced Argentine Tango before)
  • improvers (dancing Argentine Tango for up to 12 months)
  • tango dancers wanting to brush up on basic technique and musicality
  • leaders who want to follow (it’s fun to reverse roles!)
  • followers who want to lead (may help you get more dances…)

This course is suitable for absolute beginners, and improvers up to 6 months experience. Anyone who dances Ballroom, Salsa, Modern Jive etc. and who is wanting a new challenge is welcome to join in.

Please note this course is limited in numbers (max 10 people) and requires some commitment to the whole period. Missing the odd week maybe OK, but this is not a drop in class and missing more than 2 weeks will not help you.

For more details of the course, and to guarantee your place, please book now at
Ten Weeks to Tango – Pinner – 28th Sept – 30th Nov

Finally…

If you would like to receive my  newsletter to keep up to date with any future events, courses, or classes, please email me with the Subject line marked ‘subscribe’.

Oh, and if you are short of a Birthday present for your partner, who has always wanted to learn the Argentine tango, why not book yourselves on one of the courses/workshops starting this year, or maybe even a private lesson? 🙂

I look forward to seeing you soon

Steve


Baking a Tasty Tango

Picture of a bread maker as an analogy to 'baking a tango'As some of you know I bought myself a bread-maker as a Christmas present, and of course being a man I plunged ahead and started on the first inaugural loaf. I had all the ingredients (well apart from the odd substitute here and there). I had most of the tools required (or thought I did until I couldn’t find some of them), so I did what most blokes do – I bodged it, guessed it, and made it work (sort of). I mean how hard could it be with a machine that did the hard work? 🙂

So what has this got to do with Argentine Tango? Well I learned a few things by doing something new which I’d never done before just as we all do with our tango adventures.

Make sure you have all the ingredients.

I did have all the ingredients for my loaf apart from one substitute.

In tango terms, to dance the tango well you need the right ingredients – some choreography, executed with good technique, in a fitting musical way, and in an Argentine Tango style. Some things can be substituted without reducing the yumminess of your tango. For example, choreography. You can use all sorts of different choreography to dance tango. Other things can’t be easily substituted without making your tango a bit less flavoursome, for example technique. Even the simplest of choreographic movements just look and feel better, and can be performed easier if you have good technique.

Make sure you have the correct tools

Straight off the bat while doing some basic pre-baking tasks I burned my thumb because… I didn’t have a proper oven glove and just used a thin dry tea-towel to pick up a hot tin. Ouch!

Also I could only find half my weighing scales (and not the measuring bit) so had to guess some of the major ingredients.

In Tango terms this might be any thing from lack of technique to lack of floor craft. For example with floor craft, maybe a leader starts a movement in a busy milonga and suddenly finds they’ve run out of room to complete the move, resulting in a collision.

Or a leader trying out newly learned figure in a milonga which they are not reasonably sure they can perform well. We all attend classes and learn new things, but do you want to immediately try it out in a milonga before you have practised enough to make sure you can lead or follow such a movement? My own rule of thumb is if I can’t be 90% confident of leading a movement with any dancer, then I don’t use it in a milonga, until I’ve practised it enough.

Performing the task correctly

With my first loaf I took longer than the instructions suggested to mix the flour and liquids, and almost forgot the last bit of milk to apply. Actually I didn’t forget. All the milk went in earlier in the process when only some of the milk should have gone in. I didn’t read the recipe properly! I put some more in when I realised I hadn’t saved a bit 🙂

In tango terms an example might mean using floor-craft to make sure you have

  1. enough room to complete your intended movement without having to cut it short, by monitoring the couple in front of you and in front of them to make sure you pick up signals about potential blockage early, or
  2. a back up plan if you can’t complete a movement. Don’t try to complete a movement even when it’s totally obvious to all around that you don’t have room to do this without bumping another couple. If you commit to a movement, without respect for other dancers, you’re not dancing social tango.

Having patience for things to come together

So I finally had all the ingredients in my bread-maker and it was sloshing the mix around creating the dough prior to cooking. I stood and watched through the window in the top of the machine. It was like watching paint dry, but I couldn’t help coming back every 10 mins or so (in a 2 1/2 cooking cycle), just to see if anything interesting was happening. It wasn’t…

In Tango terms this could be the impatience we often get with our ‘lack of improvement’. We never seem to get ‘good’ quick enough! Learning takes time, and improvement may be imperceptible, but is nevertheless happening. Have patience with your own progress and keep learning and practising consistently.

I’m sure there are many more analogies one could draw between baking and tango (perhaps the tango bakers out there would like to suggest further ones? 🙂 ) but as a start, if you follow some of the above guidance, you too could be baking a nice tasty tango for yourself 🙂

Finally, I’m sure you’d all love to know what happened with the first ever loaf I baked? Was it Mmmmm… 🙂 or Hmmm… :(? I’m happy to say that it was Mmmmm… in taste, much better than shop bought gluten-free bread. However, there was undoubtedly room for improvement, and yes I have bought some proper scales – no more guessing quantities (until I start experimenting with flavours 🙂 )